April 17th, 2012 | Published in Interviews
By Pete Roche
Prong guitarist Tommy Victor has been there, done that—and will keep doing it when his band plays Peabody’s Down Under this Wednesday, April 18th with metal titans Crowbar.
Prong’s seventh studio LP, Carved Into Stone, drops next week on Long Branch Records. But physical copies will probably be available for purchase at the Peabody’s merch stand on day-of-show, Victor told us during a recent phone interview.
A former CBGBs sound technician, Victor started Prong in the mid-Eighties as an outlet for his own energetic music. Epic Records signed the trio on the strength of its independently issued albums Primitive Origins and Force Fed, and Victor enjoyed modest success over the course of Prong’s subsequent discs. The triumvirate of Prove You Wrong, Cleansing, and Rude Awakening thrust the band into heavy rotation on college and hard rock radio stations. Victor toured with metal stalwarts Type O Negative, White Zombie, Pantera, and Soulfly in the latter part of the Nineties.
But then it was time for change.
Prong members Paul Ravens and Ted Parsons left in 1996 to form Godflesh after Victor took a side gig with Ministry and joined Glen Danzig’s fulltime band. The guitarist appeared on Circle of Snakes and Deth Red Sabaoth while in the employ of the Misfits maestro, but by 2003 Victor was itching to release his own material again. With bassist Monte Pittman and drummer Dan Laudo rounding out the Prong trident, the band issued Scorpio Rising in 2003. Victor would call upon Pittman again for 2007’s Power of the Damager.
Twenty-five years after its formation, Prong is once again Victor’s vehicle for original hardcore. With bassist Tony Campos (Static X, Soulfly) and drummer Alexei Rodriguez (Walls of Jericho) on board, the threesome took time crafting Carved Into Stone.
But we’ll let Victor fill us in.
THE CLEVELAND SOUND: Could you talk about writing and recording Carved Into Stone? There was a bit of a gap between this album and Prong’s last record. How was this one different for you?
TOMMY VICTOR: We worked really hard on it. Years in the making. Tried to get the best songs possible for it. Got a real producer doing it—other than myself (laughs)—this guy, Steve Evetts, who produced Dillinger Escape Plan, Hatebreed, Sepultura, The Cure, Limp Bizkit….We wanted to get a real pro records. The vocals had to come up to the standards that people are used to today. We’re really happy with it. Just good songs, a great-sounding record. We’re very pleased with it. And everything was recorded as-is. No cutting and pasting. I had to do other guitar parts and double them properly, start to finish, on all the songs. It was done like it would be done to tape, but obviously we couldn’t afford to go with tape these days, so…but we recorded the basic tracks live. The drum performances were all done live. Everything was done like an old school record. But it had to be done precisely, so we ended up putting a lot of work into it.
TCS: I’ve read that on previous Prong releases, you were the taskmaster. So for this one you had to turn it over to Steve Evett and make some adjustments.
TV: Just based on what I said, where everything had to be played precisely—and I hadn’t done that in years. From start to finish. So that was grueling. The vocals, too; we didn’t use any trickery in the studio. We had to do vocal harmonies, and put a lot of work into that. You don’t really hear that much, but they’re there. Precise doubles on the vocals, getting good pitch on everything. I trusted him from the start. You get to this stage in the middle of the record where it’s like, “Is all this really necessary?” But he took an organic approach to everything, where I might have liked to cut and paste. It’s like, “I just played this, I’m not doing it again!” And he was like, “No, we’re doing it for real.” So we made commitments on certain effects going into the computer, the “tape,” so to speak. And those commitments were driving me crazy. It’s like, “What if we don’t like this later?” We were getting confused about that. But it all came out great, man. The guy has had a lot of experience, so he knows what the hell he’s doing. And I wasn’t used to that. Sometimes we’d have a couple beers and listen to what was going on, and I’m like, “I think we should change this.” But he wouldn’t allow that. So we just had to go for it. That’s what was going on. No rethinking anything.
TCS: Is writing a Prong album a democratic process? Do you come up with most of the stuff, or do you take input from (bassist) Tony Campos and (drummer) Alexei Rodriguez?
TV: Well, Tony Campos has a lot to do with it. Tony plays bass on the record, and when we played on the previous tour we’d be sitting in a hotel room, and I’m like, “We gotta write some songs. I’ve got this Prong record I want to do.” I had a couple riffs, he had a couple things, so we patch them together. Then when we get off the tour we had to start demo-ing them properly, take those goofball riffs we had on a Dictaphone into rehearsal with Alexei and jam them out. Then we went into Tony’s house and recorded some stuff in his home studio. And that one stuck; we knew that one was gonna make it on the record. There was a slew of other stuff where it was like, we didn’t know. I had a lot of stuff on my own Pro Tools rig, some stuff that got ixneyed early on. Then two years down the line we go do the record, and Alexei comes in with the title track, “Carved Into Stone.” And he really liked the riff—but Tony didn’t respond too well to it. So we worked on it some more, then cut another demo. By the time Steve got hold of ‘em, he started putting the songs on a priority list. Then you make more adjustments to them during preproduction as well. So it’s that kind of process on all the songs. Some of them got thrown in the garbage pail early, some got brought back, and others took pieces meant for other songs. “List of Grievances” is a barn-burning thrash thing, and we had a different part in there, and combined it with another thrash thing. That worked out great; that was done in preproduction at the last minute. The song “Subtract,” too—we had the general idea of it, but Steve said “You gotta write another part for this.” So I’d go home at night, after preproduction, and I came up with another part to bring back in the morning. Then of course you don’t have lyrics completely written for those parts, so during the process of making the record while I’m laying down guitar tracks, I’d have to go home and think about lyrics for the songs. With lyrics it’s a constant process. I was always revisiting them, throwing stuff out, putting in different melody lines, trying to make sense out of the stories that have to be presented in the songs. And that’s really important to me, too. A lot of bands don’t focus on lyrics anymore. It’s like, “Whatever sounds good. I don’t listen to the lyrics.” And then when you read ‘em, they look ridiculous. Or it doesn’t make any sense. So I’m always concerned about that. There’s a song called “Revenge Served Cold,” which is the single and the one we shot the video for. It’s about this guy who gets freaked out. He knows he’s hated, and he gets freaked out by these sounds around him and thinks someone is after him. And that’s what you want to do. Instead of going over there with a baseball bat, you send this guy an envelope with like, nothing in it, and get him all freaked out about stuff. Know what I mean? Put a paper bag under the guy’s car, and he starts losing his mind.
TV: So it’s full of stories like that. And to write it, you have to keep on living in a sort of pain. You’ve got to put yourself into this mode of disappointment in order to keep going. Because when you have success, you tend to party and you don’t do anything. Sometimes when you’re disappointed, you’re in the best place you could possibly be.
TCS: That process sounds a lot like what athletes do. They workout or train until they hit a “wall” where it feels like they can’t endure anymore punishment. But then they break through it and reach a kind of euphoria. Like a runner’s high.
TV: Absolutely. And then when you break through it, you start all over again. It’s like now, where we’ve made the record—so now I have to start looking at the future and start jotting ideas here and there as we go along. Because it never stops. And we never really celebrated; making the record was complete work. Whereas before, we’d be like, “Let’s go out to dinner and have a couple beers. Then we’ll go back and see what the hell’s going on.” There was none of that in this. We’d get in early, work all day long, take a quick break somewhere in there, and then hit it again in the morning. And at my age, that was a discipline. I was used to making computer records, especially with other projects, where you lay something down once, and then you manipulate it and create the record through that.
TCS: You described Tony’s input. How does Alexie come into the picture?
TV: It’s a supportive role. I mean, I got to sit there for hours and hours on end in isolation in the rehearsal studio, again in that demo stage where the music was somehow pieced together in early stages of the song. And I’d be like, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” in those spots where I’m putting like three vocal layers on a song. Then I’d send it over to him and he’d be like, “That was pretty cool. Why don’t you develop that one?” He was somebody to throw ideas around, too. He came up with a couple riffs, too. Everything is sort of collaborative on that end. I’ll reach out to the drummer, Alexei, and see what he liked, or get some reference to what’s going on with a lot of these things. Because when you write a bunch of riffs, you don’t always know where you’re going with stuff. You try to patch stuff together. I’ve never been that dogmatic about the material. Everyone communally has to kind of agree. If one person doesn’t agree on something that’s going on, well then it’s usually thrown out.
TCS: Yeah, I imagine it must be rough for a musician to play a song he’s not crazy about, night after night. Stuff like that can break up a group.
TV: Yeah, but it’s not just the enjoyment factor of playing it. There’s also the security in knowing that what you’ve done is good. And we reached out to the managers and Evetts, too, before going in, to make that final decision on what the songs were going to be.
TCS: So does Prong mix up the old with the new on tour? Can Cleveland fans expect a hefty helping of Carved Into Stone?
TV: Nah, we’ll mostly do the quote-unquote “hits.” We’ll throw a couple new ones in there. We just got finished with a run, and we played a lot of material from Cleansing and Beg to Differ. We’ll throw in a couple new ones, but for the most part it’s the most recognizable songs that we can play. That’s what people want, and I like doing that anyhow. I’m trying not to confuse people too much, like we have in the past.
TCS: I’ve got to ask what it’s like having played with Glen Danzig. I know you joined up with his band for the Circle of Snakes album and tour with him….
TV: I still play with Glen, so it’s not a past thing. The main thing I like about playing with Glen is, like you, that I’m a fan of his. The Misfits’ Walk Among Us influenced me a lot. Even the later records, too, up to Satan’s Child. With the Circle of Snakes record, Glen sort of writes everything and presents it to us, and you make your interpretation of it. So it’s a different process. I know some of the riffs in there sound like they come write out of my songbook, but essentially that’s all Glen’s stuff. Deth Red Sabaoth was the same thing. Glen works with a whole different agenda. He works fast. I’m not saying it’s like an Ed Wood type recording process. He looks for performances and gets excited; he doesn’t worry too much about the details too much. So that’s a whole different ballgame. I could never approach it that way with Prong, because I’m too concerned with the work-shoppy specifics of things. As far as touring goes, it’s always a lot of drama—but a lot of fun at the same time. Always some last-minute craziness. But somehow, he’s got his own magic where everything just gets pulled together. I’d like to think I have a really good relationship with him.
Prong, with Crowbar. April 17th at Peabody’s Down Under.